Hawai‘i High School Student Showcases Biomedical Research at NIH

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STEP-UP intern, Kelly Wong, senior at McKinley High School, presenting her asthma research at the National Institutes of Health/National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases STEP-UP Symposium. Kellyʻs mentor is Tropical Medicine Assistant Professor Juwon Park. (Photo courtesy of UH JABSOM Dept. of Tropical Medicine, Medical Microbiology & Pharmacology.)

In June of this year, Kelly Wong, a senior from McKinley High School, participated as a summer intern in the Pacific STEP-UP Program at UH JABSOM. At the time, Kelly knew nothing about laboratory research. Also new to the program was Assistant Professor, Dr. Juwon Park at the Department of Tropical Medicine, Medical Microbiology, and Pharmacology, who was the research mentor for Kelly. But in less than two months Kelly found herself at the nation’s premier research establishment, the National Institutes of Health, discussing her summer research on the immunopathogenesis of asthma (Abstract title: “Impact of fibroblast loss on airway remodeling in house dust mite-induced asthma model”).

Coming from a disadvantaged background and a soon to be first-generation college student at UH Manoa, Kelly joined a nationwide cohort of 80 STEP-UP high school interns at the Annual NIH/NIDDK STEP-UP Science Symposium (August 6-10, 2023). Among the 80 STEP-UP students were 25 interns recruited from Hawaii and the US Affiliated Pacific Islands (USAPI), including Guam, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, American Samoa, Federated States of Micronesia, Palau, and Republic of the Marshall Islands. Pacific STEP-UP is part of the NIH STEP-UP Program, and its goal is to support underrepresented and disadvantaged students to pursue a career in biomedical research and other health-related fields. Since 2007, Pacific STEP-UP has enrolled 84 Hawaii students from 30 high schools across 6 islands. In total, the Program has recruited 459 students from Hawaii and the USAPI during the same period. Aligned with many other research and training programs at UH, Pacific STEP-UP focuses on the “One Health” approach in research training in medicine. And for Kelly, this summer is her first step to becoming a Public Health scientist.

(Story originally posted on the Department of Tropical Medicine, Medical Microbiology & Pharmacology website.)